What it's like to do a law apprenticeship

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Pete Black is a solicitor apprentice at Womble Bond Dickinson (UK) LLP. Here he shares his experience and advice.

Through an apprenticeship, Pete was able to fulfil his childhood ambition of becoming a lawyer and being involved in real legal cases and court battles. Here is his story so far.

  • 2015: Worked part time at the Surf Café in Tynemouth.
  • 2015–2017: Completed A levels in history, English language and psychology.
  • 2017: Began apprenticeship at Womble Bond Dickinson.

Pete says…

At primary school there was an assembly in which we talked about what we wanted to be when we were older and I remember standing up in a gown and wig saying I wanted to be a lawyer. I’d seen barristers and solicitors on television and I was really attracted to the idea of a job where you solve problems for other people.

Discovering apprenticeships

At high school, I began actively thinking about a career in law. My assistant head teacher had a contact at one of the law firms offering a solicitor apprenticeship in Newcastle. Before this, I didn’t know that this route existed and so wanted to find out more. The opportunity to enter the legal profession through an apprenticeship seemed too good to pass up.

The apprenticeship would take six years – the same length of time it would take to qualify if I went to university I’d still get a degree and I wouldn’t have to apply for incredibly competitive training contracts (graduate programmes) after graduating. The apprenticeship route also stood out as an opportunity to study without accruing large amounts of student debt.

Apprenticeship applications

My initial application for the apprenticeship was to CILEx Law School and The City Law School, after which your application is looked at by five Newcastle law firms. I was invited to an assessment day in March 2017, where I was able to meet representatives from the law firms. Womble Bond Dickinson immediately stood out as the largest of the firms and the one that I thought I would be most suited to, even at that early stage.

After this first assessment centre, I was invited to a three-day placement at Womble Bond Dickinson, followed by an interview. The whole thing was an intense process compared to the interviews for part-time jobs I’d done. Looking back, I’m sure I must have done something right – but I was still very nervous. It was comforting, however, to think that everybody else was probably in the same boat.

Trials and triumphs

I’m now in the second year of my apprenticeship. The nature of the legal profession means that I never know what’s going to happen in a day; people will come to me with urgent problems that I’ll need to drop everything to deal with. I’m based in our private capital team as part of a smaller group specialising in trusts and estate disputes. I draft documents, look at deeds and spend a lot of time communicating with clients over email and the phone. It’s a lot of responsibility but, ultimately, everything I do is supervised.

More recently, the opportunity to assist with some maternity cover work in the Court of Protection sub-team has arisen. This opportunity has allowed me to have a bit more independence in my work and I now split my time between the two areas of work.

Highlights of working life

There’s not a day when I wake up and dread going to work. The highlight of my time so far has been when one of the cases I worked on ended up in a three-day trial in the chancery division (as it was then) of the High Court. It is rare that cases in this area end up going to trial due to the emphasis on alternative dispute resolution. It was very exciting to see barristers taking the work that I’d done ‘behind the scenes’ and presenting it in front of the judge. It’s great to see your work directly having an impact on people and in the legal world.

Adapting to solicitor life

Every week, I spend Wednesday studying from textbooks and an online portal and once a month I travel to City, University of London for tutorials. I have assessments every couple of months and three larger exams in June, one for each module I’ve studied that year. It’s hard to concentrate on revision when you’re at work, though I was given the week before exams off as study leave. However, looking back on how well those exams went, I feel less pressure this year – I know I can do it.

I’d be lying if I said studying alongside working wasn’t a difficult challenge. Ultimately, I’m doing the same work a full-time student might do. There are times when you have to rearrange your personal life to study. But, you adapt and get used to it. I’m able to fit in everything that’s most important to me. I make time to socialise and on a Friday evening, you can often find me in the pub with colleagues or friends from home. I even manage to pull off the odd night shift with the police as a special constable. You can easily find the right balance for you!

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